Think back just a few decades and it’s likely you remember a time when kids came home from school and were sent outdoors until it got dark – to do what? Simply play outdoors in nature. Over the last few generations, thanks in most part to technology, kids of all ages are spending more time in front of a screen, and less time outside. Getting young kids and teens outdoors is important for so many reasons and creating opportunities for outdoor fun for teenagers provides lasting benefits.
Why Getting Teens Outdoors is so Important
For decades, people have become increasingly concerned about the time that children are spending indoors, disconnected from the outside world. There is even a name for this: nature deficit disorder. First named by author Richard Louv, this describes the disconnect between youth and nature. After thousands of years of living and connecting directly with the outdoors, today’s kids are leading a much different lifestyle, and this ‘nature deficit’ is taking its toll on mental and physical health.
Nature Deficit Disorder in the Teenage Years
Much of the research and discussion around nature deficit disorder has focused on young kids. As a result, there has been an explosion of kids programs and activities to get young kids outside including forest kindergartens, outdoor summer camps, hiking groups for babies and more. As kids grow into the teenage years, it becomes more difficult to control their behavior as they begin to make more decisions on their own, and there seems to be less emphasis on the importance of outdoor time for teenage kids. In fact most sources claim that kids are getting under 10 minutes of outdoor structured play a day – it’s time to get more teens outdoors!
Think about the marketing we see online or TV for teens – the stereotypical teen is wrapped up in sports and activities, spending time with friends, diving into fashion and more. These are all important aspects of being a teen, but there are few role models showing teens spending time outdoors and the value of this.
How Getting Teens Outdoors is Good for Teens
Getting teens outdoors has so many benefits for a teen’s overall health. You can argue that ANY outdoor time is good, but kids need true time in nature, not just being outside on the playing field during sports practice. Here are some ways that getting outside benefits teens.
- Reduces stress – studies show that spending time in a safe, natural environment lowers stress
- Promotes physical health -spending time hiking, biking, and walking in nature increases metabolism and can result in weight loss, increased muscular strength and balance, and can help reduce attention issues.
- Builds confidence – no matter how they interact with the natural world, teens are gaining confidence in a new environment and in themselves
- Provides a different sensory experience – many kids are struggling with overstimulation and nature provides a steady set of sensory inputs
- Getting outside with your teens gives an amazing opportunity to talk and connect (See 100 Conversation Starters for Teens)
How Getting Teens Outdoors is Good for the World
- Teaches responsibility – teens learn that there is a natural consequence in nature – if you don’t take care of a plant, it will die
- Encourages the next generation of stewards – our teens are learning to care about the world through experiencing it. If we want nourish the next generation of stewards, we need to promote time outside for teens
- It develops strong minds – in a world full of problems to solve, spending time in nature promotes deep thinking and problem solving
How to Get your Teen to go Outside
You know it’s important, but how do you find fun activities outdoors with your teens that they’ll want to do? Here are a few key suggestions for setting the stage for outdoor fun for teens:
- Be a good role model – adults need time outdoors too, and you teen is more likely to see the importance of spending time outdoors if they see the adults around them valuing that experience. Getting teens outdoors with other teens is often easier as well so invite their friends along!
- If spending time outdoors in a priority for your teen and family, you may need to limit other commitments and schedule fun activities in advance so you actual find the time
- Come up with fun ways to spend time in nature (see some suggestions below)
- Let your teen decide how to spend time outdoors – if you are doing all the work, your teen is less likely to fully engage and you are doing less to promote the lifelong goal of spending time outside
- Set a time limit on technology for each day or week, or make part of the day screen-free for in your home
- Ask your kids to help out with outdoor chores or tasks like stacking wood, mowing the lawn, walking to the store, etc
Inspire your Teens with Over 60 Adventure Quotes for Kids
Fun Everyday Outdoor Activities for Teens
Planning a long weekend hike or a fun week long backpacking trip is a great way to get your teens outdoors, but it’s also important to find fun and easy ways to get your teen outside everyday around your home or neighborhood. Don’t forget that the goal is for your teen to make the choice to spend time outside so prioritize activities they want to do and model getting outside. One method you shouldn’t overlook is just telling your teen they need to spend time outdoors. Don’t tell them what to do, but just as you expect them to go to school, do their homework, eat dinner, etc – make spending time outdoors a household priority. Still looking for specific suggestions, here are some ideas to get your teens outdoors:
- Shoot hoops
- Juggle a soccer ball
- Bounce a tennis ball
- Do a workout
- Go for a run
- Go for a bike
- Go for a walk
- Build a campfire and cook dinner
- Jump rope
- Go geocaching
- Go swimming
- Walk to the store
- Build a garden
- Mow the lawn
- Star gaze
- Write a poem
- Take some photos (give them a photo challenge)
- Build something
- Take your dog for a walk
- Take a neighbors dog for a walk
- Play with a friend
- Read a book
- Learn to whittle
- Have a picnic
- Visit an historic Site
- Watch the sunset
- Do a random act of kindness
- Go to the beach
- Go apple picking
- Go berry picking
- Go sit on a rock and think
- Camp in your yard
- Throw a baseball/softball
- Visit a park
- Take a nap
- Pick up trash
Fun Adventures to get Teens Outdoors
Everyday time outdoors is important for your teen’s health, but planning longer and more involved teen adventures will help create a lifelong outdoor enthusiast! Travelling together with your teen and specifically planning adventure travel promotes time outdoors and a love for this beautiful planet. Below are some specific suggestions, but make sure you are getting your teen involved in helping plan your time outside.
Travel to an Amazing Destination with lots of Things to do Outdoors
Choose a destination full of outdoor activities such as a US National Park or a mountain or seaside town. In many of these destinations, the fun things to do are all outside so you and your teen have no choice but to get out there and enjoy!
Go for a Hike
Take your teen out for a day hike and disconnect from the world. No matter where you live, how fit you are, or what gear you have, there is likely a hike nearby that is perfect for you and your teen. Plan a day hike with your teen or even a hiking vacation.
Take Your Teen Biking
Take you teen biking and explore a new place from a different perspective. You can choose a biking destination and or link together several places and do some bike-packing. For a little challenge, choose a goal that you and your teen can build up to: bike across town, bike to a grandparents house, bike across the state, there are so many different challenges you can set for yourself
An overnight trip into the woods is a full on nature experience for you and your teen. There is the added benefit that you will disconnect from the world for a full night and come home feeling refreshed.
Whether you are downhill or cross country skiing, spending time in nature during the winter is often even more important since we spend so much of the time cooped up. You can do a day trip to ski if you live near a mountain, or spend a weekend or week at a ski resort.
Get On and Near the Water
If your teen loves the ocean, plan a trip to the beach or coast. Sitting or walking along the ocean is a perfect activity and you can even add in some adventure with a kayak, sail or boat ride.
Volunteer for Outdoor Work
Getting teens involved in outdoor volunteer work gets them involved in nature and also benefits the community. Many volunteer programs such as summer camps, trail maintenance and trash clean ups welcome teens in their programs
Send Your Teen on an Outdoor Program
While I strongly recommend promoting daily time outdoors for teens and spending family time together with your teens, there is also a huge benefit to teens for spending time with their peers outdoors and developing outdoor mentors. Summer camps and teen programs often focus on outdoor adventures for teens and are a tremendous way for your teen to have fun outside.
No matter how you choose to get your teens outdoors, it is important to keep this a priority throughout these formative years. Outdoor time is important for kids (and people!) of all ages and there is something outdoors for everyone. Do you have other favorite ways to spend time outside in nature? Share your thoughts in the comments below or join our online community to learn more.
Looking for conversation starters to kick start your next conversation with your teens? Get our printable list at Etsy.